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Steve Nash Once Again Tasked With Learning New Suns Team

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Steve Nash has his hands full once again as he prepares for yet another Suns season. So far, the team is struggling to incorporate several new key players on both ends of the floor.

Steve Nash came to the Phoenix Suns in 2004 and all the Suns have done since is average 55 wins and finish second in the Western Conference three times.

That's even more amazing when you consider:

  • Nash has played for three different coaches and has worked under three different general mangers in six years
  • Twice the team made huge mid-season trades (Marion for Shaq in 07-08 and Bell and Diaw for Richardson and Dudley in 08-09)
  • Amare Stoudemire missed a full season in 2005-06
  • 16 different guys started at least 10 games with Nash over the last six years. That will increase by one or two more this season 
  • Not one year have the Suns returned their starting lineup in tact
  • Other than Nash, only Grant Hill has been on the Suns roster more than two seasons. He's been on three

That last one is pretty incredible. The entire roster has completely turned over in the last two seasons except for Nash and Hill. That's a lot of change.

Is there another team that's churned players this much and still managed to consistently win 50-plus games per season? 

It's no wonder than that Nash sounds a bit exasperated when talking about the Suns 1-4 preseason record?

"Is it a little bit more of a work in progress than maybe going into the season a year ago?" the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro asked Nash on Saturday.

"Of course, I mean we have so many new guys. I don't think we had this many new guys last year; it was just Channing (Frye), it felt like. So, this year, it seems like three or four or even five guys that are going to be rotation guys that are new. That's difficult."

Not just difficult, but almost cruel.

Nash, more than any other star player in the league, thrives on chemistry and rhythm. He is an instinctive and improvisational player who gets better the longer he's able to play with his teammates. Once he knows and feels what they are going to do and how they can be most effective, he can use his talents to lift the level of the team.

Unfortunately, as the season progresses and Nash has more time to learn his new mates, his body will continue to wear down and he won't physically be able to play at the same level. So in November, when he's feeling his best, he won't yet have found the optimal rhythm for leading his team.

A cruel fate, indeed.

Still picking and rolling

The main challenge this season for Nash is learning how to play with Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick at the power forward position -- two guys with very different skill sets who will be primary roll men in the Suns first weapon of choice, the pick and roll.

"We're still a pick and roll team," Coach Gentry said. "We're still going to run pick and roll. Obviously, Amare (Stoudemire) was the best in the league at it. Also, the guy delivering the ball (Nash) is the best in the league at it. It's just a matter of Steve getting timing down."

Gentry went on to compare Nash's role to that of a star quarterback finding the timing with a new receiver.

Arizona Cardinals fans know all about that, but fortunately in this case, the aging QB is still taking snaps and running the show. The Suns aren't going to end up starting an undrafted rookie at point guard like the Cardinals are doing with Max Hall.

At least one of Nash's receivers returned this season.

The pick and roll with Robin Lopez looks good, but very different than what we've seen with Amare Stoudemire. Bounce passes to Amare were quick and sharp and came immediately after the screen. This gave Amare more time to create with the ball and attack the rim with ferocity.

Lopez is an able roll man for a seven-footer, but working with him requires Nash to hold the ball longer and give Robin more time to get into position. That's not a bad thing either, as the Lopez screens are much more effective, which gives Nash more space to work with and Nash and Robin have already shown how adept they are at connecting on the lob pass.

Steve is comfortable with Robin, already saying that his time running the bread and butter play last season will carry over. It's his power forwards that will need more time.

"I feel like I have a good rhythm with Robin; it's just all five guys being in the right place reading and reacting to one another is going to take time," the Suns quarterback said.

Hakim Warrick is Amare-lite in his ability to both roll and finish and pop and shoot, but let's be clear: he's no Amare and Amare is not walking back through that door.

Hedo Turkoglu is much more of a pick and pop guy, who is just as likely to try and create secondary action as he is to simply roll and attack.

Nash has to learn to play with both of them, all the while figuring out how to best fit with Josh Childress when they are on the floor together and still get on the same page defensively.

Even in five preseason losses, the starting lineup has played well in the first six-plus minutes they've been on the floor together and that's certainly a positive sign, but Nash isn't satisfied with just that.

"Our second unit has kind of got to be our star unit. Our first unit is a good starting lineup, but our second unit is an excellent second unit, so we need to find that rhythm with the first unit/second unit and the different combinations that overlap," he said.

Overall, Nash isn't worried about the offense. He says with all their threats, the Suns can score the ball in different ways besides the pick and roll, such as working from the elbow in isolation and from motion. The key for this team is to be moving constantly and working quickly and in rhythm if the early transition basket isn't there.

Remember, the Suns aren't a running team.

"We're a rhythm team; we like to flow into things and keep moving. When we stop, we're too lightweight to stop. Even in the half court, we can come down in the half court, but then everything's got to move and space the floor and take advantage of penetration," Nash explained.

"We've got to really concentrate on our defense. If our defense can get up to a good level like we were at the end of last year, then we can win a bunch of games."

And there it is. In years past, the focus would have been solely on scoring more points than the other team. As Mike D'Antoni would say, if you score two more points than the other team then you played good defense.

The problem with that, of course, is that teams in the playoffs were able to turn up the defensive pressure and slow the Suns offense enough, while the D'Antoni's non-defensive teams weren't able to get the stops they needed to win games.

This season, while the Suns offense will still be good, it isn't likely to be as good as it was with Amare and that means the defense will need to step up a notch. But so far in the preseason, the numbers don't show that progress.

The Suns have given up around 110 points per game while scoring well under 100.

"I'm not panicking, but at the same time, it's something we need to make a priority every single day," Nash said about the team's defense. 

Just put that right up there with the rest of Steve's priorities as he tries to learn how to play with another group of players, get the team's offense on track and keep himself healthy.